The following is reproduced with kind permission of Bright Green Partners, a global consulting firm focused on alternative proteins. Bright Green works with food and biotech companies and governments to help them navigate the emerging plant-based, fermentation-derived and cultured meat and dairy industries. Services include strategy, innovation, and operational consulting, and we guide our clients from initial market exploration to large-scale production.
In the world of food processing, extrusion technology has been a staple for decades. The process pushes ingredients through a die to create a continuous shape, making it ideal for food production at scale. High-moisture extrusion has further advanced this technology, enabling plant-based food manufacturers to mimic the tender, chewy texture of meat and seafood.
While extrusion has certainly expanded the horizons for alternative proteins, there are many other innovative technologies emerging that are taking plant-based food processing to the next level. These include ohmic heating, shear-cell technology, 3D printing and electrospinning, and they have enabled companies to create authentic products with unprecedented precision and speed.
In this article, we’ll explore the latest innovations in plant-based food processing and highlight some alternative protein companies that are leading the way in their adoption.
Ohmic heating, also referred to as power heating, is a process that produces a rapid and consistent increase in temperature by passing an alternating current through a food product. It is commonly used in food production for purposes such as sterilization and pasteurization of food products. Until recently, it has not been extensively studied for the production of alternative proteins.
One of the advantages of ohmic heating is that it enables precise temperature control, making it a valuable tool for processing plant-based proteins that may undergo denaturation and coagulation during thermal processing. By modifying structural and techno-functional properties, ohmic heating can be used to improve the performance of plant-based proteins, such as enhancing their emulsification, gelation or foaming capacity.
Additionally, the application of uniform heat can reduce antinutrient levels and preserve nutritional quality and sensory properties, while improving the texture, mouthfeel and flavor of alternative protein products to create a more authentic culinary experience.
Ohmic heating and other physical treatments, such as irradiation and pressure application, require fewer inputs and leave fewer unwanted residues than chemical and biological protein treatments and subsequently hold potential as cheaper alternatives. However, more research is needed, since the use of ohmic heating is relatively novel in the alternative protein industry.
Shear cell technology, also called high-pressure processing (HPP), applies high pressure to raw materials by breaking the cell walls, resulting in improved texture, digestibility, nutritional profile, flavor and improved shelf life of alternative protein products.
Compared to extrusion processes, shear cell technology provides a more well-defined and constant deformation of plant-based proteins, enabling the production of fibrous meat analogs that remain stable and structurally consistent even after cooling. Further developments in technology, such as Couette shear cell design, aimed to improve productivity and accuracy.
Shear cell technology has numerous applications in the alternative protein industry, including plant-based meat, dairy and seafood alternatives, and is used by companies such as Rival Foods and The Vegetarian Butcher.
- Headquarters: Wageningen, Gelderland, Netherlands
- Established: 2019
- Founder: Birgit Dekkers and Ernst Brill
- Financing: $6M
Rival Foods is a company that uses shear cell technology to produce whole cut specialties with authentic texture, taste and juiciness. The company is developing a commercially viable shear cell machine that can synthesize plant-based proteins and advance our understanding of the potential of shear cell technology in plant-based meat production.
Electrospinning is one type of plant-based scaffolding technology being explored for the development of alternative proteins. It involves the use of an electric field to create nanofibers in a solution or melt of a polymer or protein. The resulting nanofibers can be used to create pure plant-based food products.
Electrospinning has the potential to create highly customizable and precise structures that closely mimic the texture of animal-based meats and seafood. However, further research is needed to optimize the use of this technology in the alternative protein industry.
An example of a company developing plant-based scaffolding technology is Meatable. In collaboration with contract manufacturer and product developer VIVOLTA, Meatable will test the potential of non-animal-derived electrospun scaffolds for use in the alternative protein sector.
3D printing technology is an additive manufacturing method of creating alternative proteins using a layer-by-layer printing process. The process involves creating a 3D model of the desired plant-based food product and then printing it using a special printer.
Its applications include the production of bioprinted meat, but its precise control enables the production of plant-based food alternatives with unique textures, shapes and flavors that mimic animal-based products. For example, 3D printed stakes. This allows the production of customized products according to individual preferences, such as personalized plant-based nutrition bars or dietary supplements.
Although numerous challenges remain, particularly in terms of scalability, 3D printing technology has the potential to revolutionize the food industry by providing a sustainable and efficient way to process plant-based protein products. Some of the companies using 3D printing technology to produce plant-based alternative proteins include Revo Foods, Redefine Meat and Cspire.
- Headquarters: Vienna, Wien, Austria
- Established: 2020
- Founder: Manuel Lachmeyer, Robin Simsa and Theresa Rothenbucher
- Financing: $4M
Revo Foods is a company that uses 3D printing technology to create completely plant-based seafood with authentic texture, flavor and juiciness, including tuna spread and whole cut salmon. The company is working in partnership with Mycorena to advance research into the use of 3D-printed mycoproteins to improve taste and texture, which will contribute to large-scale consumer adoption.
Take plant-based food processing to the next level
Ohmic heating, shear cell technology, 3D printing and electrospinning are some of the exciting technological developments that are revolutionizing the production of pure alternative proteins.
These plant-based food processing techniques offer numerous benefits, including improved organoleptic properties, improved nutritional profiles, and improved functionality. For example, ohmic heating can increase the solubility of plant-based proteins, while shear cell technology can create a fibrous texture in plant-based meat alternatives. 3D printing and electrospinning technologies allow the production of highly customizable products with precise structures. Moreover, these technologies contribute to a growing pool of scalable and cost-efficient plant-based food processing solutions.
As the alternative protein industry continues to grow and evolve, navigating the field and grasping the rapidly growing knowledge and technology can be challenging. To effectively transform the wealth of information into a high-level strategy and stay ahead of the competition, contact us at Bright Green Partners.
As a leading consultant specializing in alternative proteins, our deep industry knowledge and experience in plant-based food processing techniques can provide invaluable insight and help guide your company’s journey to success. With our expertise, your company can harness the power of innovative technology to create game-changing alternative protein products and capture a share of this fast-growing market.
Bright Green Partners recently published a new comprehensive guide for large corporations on fine fermentation ingredients. The report covers the potential applications of these microbial-derived ingredients in the production of alternative proteins – including meat, dairy and egg alternatives – and their economic potential. Click here for more information.